Tuesday, 28 April 2015

No One Is "Indispensable"

I recently talked with someone who has a supervisor whom he considers “indispensable”.

To quote Elbert Hubbard, “The graveyards are full of people the world could not do without.”  This is a salutary reminder that no matter how “indispensable” you may be, everyone dies and the world has to dispense with their services (however reluctantly).

Following that macabre observation, as our conversation developed, it turned out that my conversation partner had hired a perfectionist.  This hire was very good at his work and things always ran smoothly when he was around.

No worries, then, you may say.

Incorrect.

Because of his perfectionism, this supervisor fell into the classic trap of being unable to delegate, because (in his opinion) nobody could do the work as well as he could.  As a result, when volumes increased, he had no one with whom he could share the load. This resulted in:
  • Increased stress for the supervisor;
  • Petulant behaviour towards colleagues and therefore…
  • Increased stress for them (he was “senior” to many of them);
  • Morale issues;
  • Staff resignations;
  • People management issues;
  • The impression (for the supervisor involved) that he was indispensable and could get away with unprofessional behaviour;
  • Unfair comparisons/assumptions on the part of staff concerned.
My conversation partner was in a dilemma: he could see the situation, but felt his hands were tied.  What could he have done? He was scared of upsetting his supervisor and losing him.

To start with, he could remember Hubbard above.  When I talk with clients about staffing issues, one point I make is that the proverbial bolt of lightning could strike any of their staff - no matter how “indispensable” they are.  Accept it, have a plan. 

Next, always have a backup.  The US Navy SEALs say, “One is none, two is one - always have a backup (whether it’s a gun, a helicopter or a plan).”  Have other staff who know the work.  It doesn't matter if they can’t do it as well. It doesn’t matter if the knowledge is spread amongst two or three others.  They only need to be able to do it. Encourage regular “cross-training” or doing duty as “holiday cover”.  “Practice”, as they say,  “makes perfect.”

Never let anyone be the sole custodian of anything, whether processes, equipment, knowledge or information.  Show through salary and other rewards that sharing is the expected behaviour.

Encourage people to train others - reward them for doing it.  Make it a part of the promotion path and salary increments.

Anyone who is encouraged to believe that they’re “indispensable” is more trouble than they’re worth.


I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Tuesday, 21 April 2015

What Does Being “Professional” Mean?

“Professional” is a word we tend to use quite loosely.  It can mean two things: one is a member of a recognised “profession” (e.g. doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer) for which a professional qualification and recognition by an appropriate industry body are needed to work.  The other is as an adjective describing the behaviour or conduct that one expects in others.

I hear people say “That wasn’t very professional behaviour” or “He/she’s not very professional” meaning that the subject of conversation doesn't behave or act in what the speaker deems to be an appropriate way.  Often I’ve asked the speaker what they mean when they use the word “professional” and the answers are varied.  Most, however, include what I summarise below. 

Honesty/Ethical Conduct:
Telling the truth (it may hurt).  Giving all material facts that may affect decision-making.  Speaking plainly and openly (but not rudely).  Avoiding ambiguity.  Respecting other peoples’ confidence. 

Demeanour:
Appropriate behaviour/attitude as occasion demands.  Some tend to think that this means being serious and humourless all the time.  I disagree. 

Customer Interests:
You’re paid to look after your organisation’s interests, then your customer’s, then your own. 

Courtesy & Consideration:
Treating others as you would wish them to treat you.  If you can’t say it to their face, don’t say it.

Respect:
Closely related to the above, appreciating that everyone is different and that they were all hired because they were seen to have something to contribute.  Whether you agree is immaterial.  Another form of respect is not making people to ask you more than once to do something.  

Time Management:
Many overestimate what they can achieve in a day and underestimate what they can achieve in a week.  Turn up to meetings on time - show respect for other peoples' time.

Teamwork:
You don't have to like your co-workers (see Respect above), but you were hired to work together for the good of the organisation and its customers, not to indulge in petty personal vendettas or point-scoring.

Information Sharing:
Keeping information to yourself could damage your organisation.  Thinking that it gives you power or that hiding it will make others look bad is delusional.  Information is not power; information empowers.

Accepting The Inevitable:
Bad things happen - when we least expect.  Anything involving human beings will experience setbacks.  If they happened for reasons within your control, work out what happened and stop it from happening again. 

Moving On:
Following on from Accepting The Inevitable. You can moan about what has happened, or get on and fix it and learn from it.  One of my friends has a great saying: “We are where we are.”

Don’t Shoot The Messenger:
People hate bringing bad news to others (it’s human nature).  Sometimes they have to.  Professionals accept this and thank the messenger for keeping them in the picture.

Facing Facts:
Failing to acknowledge the “elephant in the room” won't help anyone. 

Addressing Problems:
… before they turn into crises.   Following on from Facing Facts, some problems resolve themselves.  Others need to be resolved fast before they turn into a crises, costing more time and effort to resolve.

Fairness:
Be seen to be fair to your colleagues and reports.  Being called “hard but fair” is a compliment.  Popularity comes second.

Accepting Responsibility:
When things go wrong as well as when they go well.  Avoiding playing the “blame game”, pointing fingers or indulging in “witch hunts” to deflect criticism.

Thinking Long-Term:
Being able to see the longer term future and/or bigger picture and not perpetually getting caught up with in-the-moment issues.

Trustworthy:
The product of many of the foregoing.  If people trust you, they will come to you and follow you.



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email. My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Meaning Of Cards

What does it mean when you give people your business card or they give you theirs?  You see it happen at networking events, social functions and other gatherings.

Scenario: afterwards, you find your email “Inbox” inundated with newsletters, product adverts or other inconsequential traffic.  You spend the next hour “unsubscribing”. 

In the drive to grow business, people often email anyone whose card they obtain.  They don’t realise that this is both self-destructive and that it also has potentially wider “ripple effects”.  Not only do you irritate a potential customer by sending unneeded “junk”, you also run the risk that they will mention you or your business in uncomplimentary terms to others. 

So what does it mean when you give or receive someone else’s card? 

First: many exchanges happen at functions out of simple courtesy.  You give me your card; I give you mine (unless I’ve run out).  It doesn’t mean that you or I become a potential target for mailings.

Second: it’s not necessarily an invitation to contact unless the giver specifically says so.  “Call me and we’ll do lunch”, “Send me your product brochure - we’re looking for …” or some other such phrase is the clue here.

Third: it’s not a request to add the giver to your database.  It may make your “contact activity” for the month look good, but a huge database of useless leads won’t benefit anyone.

Fourth: it’s not an invitation to send unwanted “newsletters” or adverts for your product. By all means, ask if they’d like a copy of your newsletter/product advertisements if you think they’ll be interested. 

Fifth: if it was given with a request to “contact me”, do it.  I’ve given my card to people whose services I needed.  No follow up, despite the invitation.  They won’t get my business; I won’t recommend them; if that person comes up in conversation I’ll tell people (who ask) about their failure to follow up.  Finally, if they contact me in the future for business, I won’t be going with them as I’ll already have seen how good they are at follow-ups.

Unfortunately, it looks from the above as though you’re caught in a difficult position when you get someone else’s business card.  Here’s how to handle it:

Ask if you may contact them if you think you can help them:

Ask if they’d like you to send some material.  If they agree, follow up within 2 business days.  If you get no response, follow-up once more, then leave it.  They’ll respect you more, and you won’t waste time on unproductive leads.  And who knows, six months later they may contact you out of the blue when they definitely need you?

Write to them and just say “Nice to meet you”:

Nothing else.  They’ll remember you for the right reasons.

Finally, if someone who gave you their card did you a favour (e.g. introduced you to someone else at the same event), write and thank them.  That’s professional courtesy and they’ll recommend you to others as well.


 I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services around the world  running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Delegation: Art or Science?

Delegation is empowering someone to act on your behalf or giving someone a task to perform.  Some people are masters at delegating.  Others struggle.  Having been on both sides of delegation, I’ve seen a number of things to do and to avoid.

To save time, I’m calling the person to whom the task is being delegated the “delegatee” and the person giving the task the “delegator”.

Do:

Delegate only what you would be prepared to (and could) do yourself.  You may need to give guidance.  If you haven’t a clue, how do you expect the delegatee to do a good job?

Take time when delegating.  Explain, give any limits of authority and resources, clarify instructions.  Make sure that others involved know the limits of authority for the task.  Allow delegatees time to clarify and ask questions.

Plan what, how and to whom you’ll delegate.  Some people are better suited to certain tasks than others.

Pick the right delegatee.  If the task needs a French speaker, make sure they speak French.

Make sure that the delegatee has the knowledge and experience to perform the task (unless it’s being given as a challenge).

Treat delegation as a way of developing talent.  Every whale has to be trained.

Treat delegation as a way of spreading workload. 

Check from time to time that the delegate is “on course, on time”.  No point in having a nasty surprise…


Don’t:

Assume people understand what you mean.  Check.  It saves time later and avoids crises.

Forget that, although you’ve delegated responsibility, accountability remains with you. 

Treat delegation as an easy way of avoiding tasks you don’t enjoy.  People will sense this very quickly.

Treat delegation as a way to punish someone.  The “penal jobs” will be obvious.

Show favouritism in choosing to whom to delegate.  Everyone deserves a fair chance.  You might even get a pleasant surprise…

Delegate the same task to two/more people; this results in confusion and lack of responsibility.


I’ve heard managers try to get things “off their plate” as quickly as they can, telling the delegatee “Oh, just work it out yourself!” or “do whatever you think right!” This is another way of saying “I’m not taking the blame for any of your decisions or mistakes.”  If you don't have the time to explain and clarify, don’t delegate. 

Expect to invest time at the start.  As you get used to delegating, and as people get used to you and your style, they will understand better how you like things done and how you work.  They will need less clarification as time goes on. 



I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in international financial services running different operations and lending businesses, I started my own Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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